Posture At The Computer
Technology is changing rapidly in our culture. More and more companies are allowing workers to be at home using their computers and interfacing with others at work or a company client. Work posture is important for many reasons, not only at the job site, but at home. Poor posture results in increased headaches, neck pain and back pain. Without the proper hand and wrist posture, conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome can occur. Efficiency of your work is reduced and concentration is disrupted by constant or chronic neck, back and arm pain.
Ergonomics of the work site is the first step in relieving or minimizing the abnormal stresses and strains placed upon the neck, upper back, lower back, arms and wrists. If you are at your place of employment, ask to have the ergonomics department visit your work site to look for modifications that could help reduce the stress and strain of working with your computer. Here are some of the recommendations that can be made for your comfort while working.
- The 90° – 90° posture – This position alone can make a significant difference in your work efficiency. This posture includes:
- Feet flat on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor a book or small stand can be used.
- The ankles, knees and hips are at a 90° angle to each other.
- The chair needs to be adjusted to allow you to sit with your back against the rest allowing the 90°/90° posture to easily be accomplished.
- The arms are to be held at the same 90°/90° posture. Obtaining a wrist support for the keyboard is necessary; otherwise, having to hold the hands without the support will fatigue them contributing to wrist, arm, neck and upper back pain.
- Mouse pad support is also recommended and from time to time change hands to rest the muscles.
- Height of the monitor – It has been suggested that sitting so your eyes fall in the upper 1/3 of the screen puts less stress on the neck and upper back. The distance from the screen should be 20-24 inches on average. If you are working with bifocals or trifocals it is recommended that you get a pair of glasses for computer use only. The reason for this is the head has to be tipped back for prolonged periods of time trying to keep in focus with your work on the monitor.
Problems That Can Occur While Working at the Computer
If pain, stiffness or discomfort is noted during your work day, chances are there is something wrong with the set-up or your posture. This can be compounded by the repetition of the position day after day. It may let up on the week-end, but by Monday afternoon the symptoms are back. This is a warning sign that something is wrong and you need to take it seriously. Some symptoms may need different actions. What steps should be taken?
- Consult the ergonomics department – Ask for a review of your workstation.
- Numbness and tingling of the hands – This can be an early warning of possible carpal tunnel or nerve entrapment at the elbow, shoulder or neck. It may signify circulation problems. Ongoing pain in the forearms could indicate the onset of a repetitive strain disorder. The strain is due to the repetition of using the mouse or keyboard without proper wrist support. These symptoms should prompt you to see your chiropractor or medical provider and discuss treatment options. Initially, conservative management should be recommended.
- Upper back pain – Prolonged fatigue of this area can lead to daily pain and difficulty sleeping.
- Lower back pain – Obtain an ergonomic chair and use a lumbar support cushion to sit on or place in the small of your back.
What Can I Do to Help Myself?
It should be clear at this point the first thing to do is consult with your company ergonomic or health care department. If the company does not have this available, the information in this article will start you on a corrective path. It’s never too late to start the process to improve your work station.
What about working at home? Working on a laptop provides other challenges from your desktop computer. For home desktop computers, the same recommendations as for your company office is recommended.
When using a laptop to do your work, the following suggestions can help make this as comfortable as possible for you. The laptop is quite handy, but unfortunately the screen is attached to the keyboard. This allows the user to be able to get into some awkward positions. It may not be so bad if it’s done for just a short period of time, but if you’re going to spend hours a day with poor posture, this can contribute to neck, upper back, shoulders, arm and hand complaints quite rapidly.
Some simple ideas to make laptop usage for longer periods of time more comfortable are:
- Obtain an external keyboard to use rather than the built-in keyboard.
- Have a mouse pad and wrist pad so that your arms and hands can rest during work.
- Place the laptop on a computer stand or a pile of books to bring the screen up to eye level. It should be set at a level to prevent glare and to avoid having to continually flex your neck forward to see the screen.
- The use of a document holder or placing the documents so you do not have to continually be looking down or off to the side should help to ease neck pain.
- Your chair at home should be comfortable and the 90°/90° posture is recommended.
- Take frequent breaks during your workday, at least 5-10 min. every hour. You should move away from your workstation, have your eyes focused in the distance and perhaps even take a short walk once or twice during the day. The eyes need a break as well.
- The use of stretching exercises for the neck and
upper backis recommended prior to the onset of work both in the morning and afternoon. You may find one or two specific exercises that seem to feel good and it’s recommended that these be done once or twice in the morning and once or twice in the afternoon. They should take a minimum of time and yield a favorable benefit.
- If you have to take your laptop to a job site, it is recommended to use a wheeled case to carry the computer, cables and cords. If you’re going to be gone for only a short time, just take the computer in its carrying case without the external cables and cords. Try to leave all unnecessary items behind. Carrying a computer on your shoulder for a long period of time can result in a strain to the lower neck and upper back muscles. Trying to maintain your balance and having to lift the shoulder with the computer strap on it is a constant strain that can become uncomfortable and cause pain.
All of these activities together serve to minimize or reduce pain and discomfort while at your home workstation. If this does not alleviate your complaints, make an appointment with your chiropractic or medical doctor for further care and advice. Don’t continue to suffer; it can affect your work product.
What You Can Do for Self Treatment
There are some first aid measures which you can try to see if they will stop or significantly reduce your discomfort. It is important to note that ongoing symptoms that are progressively getting worse need to be seen by your Doctor of Chiropractic or medical provider for further evaluation. There are a number of self-care techniques that may take care of your complaints. The obvious ones have been discussed regarding the ergonomics of your job site or workstation, both at the company or at home.
Here are some suggestions:
- Specific exercises for the cervical spine.
- The use of ice or cryotherapy for acute flare-ups of neck or back pain. For more of a stiffness, heat is recommended for a short time.
- Hand numbness and tingling. This can be manifested from the cervical spine, shoulder, elbow and wrist from nerve entrapment. It could also be a sign of blood circulation and nerve compression being compromised. Most commonly this would be in the shoulder from a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome.
- If these symptoms continue to worsen in spite of self-care, a doctor’s appointment is recommended right away. Please do not try to diagnose your condition but let your chiropractor or medical provider determine what is causing your complaints.
The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience in treating repetitive injury conditions to the neck and upper back.
Please contact the office at 763-755-4300 and make your appointment.